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  • Lent Reflections (8)

    The lectioanry readings for today are:

    Psalm 77

    Proverbs 30: 1 - 9

    Matthew 4: 1 - 11

    Today we are offered Matthew's take on Jesus' temptations (just in case anyone doesn't know, the order is different in Matthew and Luke, no specific temptations are named in Mark, John doesn't even mention this aspect of the story) set alongside a rather curious bit from Proverbs:

    The words of Agur son of Jakeh. An oracle.Thus says the man: I am weary, O God, I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?
    Surely I am too stupid to be human; I do not have human understanding.
    I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the holy ones.
    Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in the hollow of the hand? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is the person's name? And what is the name of the person's child? Surely you know!
    Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
    Do not add to his words, or else he will rebuke you, and you will be found a liar.
    Two things I ask of you; do not deny them to me before I die:
    Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, "Who is the LORD?" or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.

    Proverbs 30:1 - 9

    The start of this little passage probably strikes a chord for many of people... I am weary... physically?  mentally? emotionally? spiritually?  Any or all of these?  And stupid... do we sometimes feel like that too?  What a numpty I am...?  How thick am I?  These are the words of a deep thinker, perhaps a sage, perhaps a scholar, perhaps, in out day, a professor, an industry expert, a world authority... This clever, thoughtful person feels useless.

    Well, maybe it's just me, but I found that encouraging!

    After the self-deprecation comes the reminder of God's fidelity and then an incredibly profound prayer... give me neither riches nor poverty, just let me have sufficient.  Why?  Too much and I will become self-reliant, denying my dependence on God; too little and I amy take matters into my own hands and behave in ways that profane God.  Wow.  The numpty who wrote that sounds remarkably wise to me.

    But, I have a dilemma... the old Methodist covenant prayer, which I dearly love, says 'let me be full, let me empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing' (or words to that effect), and we intuitively think this is a good prayer.  Which is better then?  Proverbs or the Methodist Covenant?  What subtlety is it that allows us to hold the two together as alternative expressions of a deep truth?

    When Goldilocks went to the house of the bears

    (as the nursery song expresses it)

    She tasted porridge that was

    Too salt

    Too sweet

    Just right

    She found chairs and beds that were

    Too hard

    Too soft

    Just right

    What is this 'just right'

    This middle ground

    This sufficiency?


    When God looks on earth, God sees

    The West that has too much

    The rest that has too little

    Is anywhere just right?


    When God attends our prayers, God hears

    Calls for more health and more wealth

    Calls for less poverty and less disease

    Does anyone one seek just right?


    Lord, you have not promised us wealth or health

    You have promised us your presence

    Please show us what 'just right' looks like

    Health enough

    Wealth enough

    Food enough

    Learning enough

    That we may honour your name

    And never forget our place in your embrace.

  • Fasting & Feasting... Lent & Life

    Stolen (with her permission) from my friend J...

    Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ indwelling them.
    Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
    Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
    Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
    Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
    Fast from anger; feast on patience
    Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism
    Fast from worry; feast on trust.
    Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
    Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
    Fast from hostility; feast on non-violence.
    Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
    Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
    Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
    Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
    fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
    Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm
    Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
    fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
    Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
    Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting, gift us with your presence, so that we can be gift to others in carrying out your work.  Amen

  • Shift Work?

    This week I'm doing a series of 'late shifts'... a number of evening commitments and a number of late morning meetings, before which it makes little sense to go to the office prior to heading somewhere else.  There was a time when I'd have worked 14 hour days every day this week, but I no longer have the energy to sustain such a life-style.  So, a few later starts (around 10 a.m.) to offset the later finishes.  Not my preferred model of working, but it makes it more doable.  And I hope the sermon squeezed in along the way is OK!  I'd love to be able to race around doing stuff as I used to, but it seems not to be... I'll just have to learn to live within my limits. 

  • Lent Reflections (7)

    One week in already!  Time flies.

    Today's lectionary readings:

    Psalm 77

    Job 5: 8 - 27

    1 Peter 3: 8-18a


    Many, many years ago I read the Bible from front to back... a foolish undertaking in retrospect, it became more an exercise in determination than any kind of edification or spiritual enlightenment.  When I look back at the copy of the Bible I then used, I find large chunks of the book of Job underlined... I was at the underlining phase then, evidently a sign of 'soundness' in some circles!  And as I read the passage this morning, I felt that had I still been in that phase, I would merrily have been underling again today.  When I read Job all those years ago, I got a nasty shock... all this stuff I had underlined came from the mouths of Job's 'comforters' who are roundly criticised by God later on in the book.  Huh?  They say lots of good things, true things, but they fall foul of God?  What's that about?

    Setting this memory alongside today's reading from 1 Peter 3 is maybe helpful.

    Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.   Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called - that you might inherit a blessing.  For "Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.  For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil."  Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:8 - 18a NRSV)

    It is particularly the first couple of sentences that strike me  It's not rocket science, it's not anything we don't already know but it cuts to the heart of the matter... knowing all the correct doctrine is not enough, our attitude to, and treatment of, one another matters too.  How hard it is not to react or to respond in kind to those who insult, criticise, abuse or attack us.  How difficult not to become defensive and aggressive (for me anyway) when we find ourselves cornered.  This is turning the other cheek expressed differently.  This is where grace is grown and shown.

    So here's the challenge... to orthopraxy as the liberation theologians call it - to right practice, right living - rather than merely orthodoxy, right knowing and right believing.

    Today Lord, someone will say something that challenges my commitment to love

    Today, someone will act in a way that demands I demonstrate grace

    Today, at some point I will be tempted to react harshly

    Today, at some point I may experience harshness from another

    Today I may be tempted to legalism or judgement

    Today I may experience judgement based on legalism

    Today, Lord, in whatever happens, may love and mercy, wisdom and gentleness transform my actions and reactions


  • Lent Reflections (6)

    Today's three readings:

    Psalm 77

    Job 4

    Ephesians 2: 1 - 10

    Not exactly the most jolly selection of stuff to read.  The Ephesians passage is the 'salvation by faith through grace' bit, so some nice straight forward soteriology stuff, and a bit more upbeat than the two OT readings.

    The beginning of Psalm 77 is what I found spoke to me today:

    I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
    In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
    I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
    You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

    Psalm 77:1 - 4 NRSV

    I think pretty much everyone has had nights when they cannot sleep, or times when they have lain awake all night trying to make sense of something or other but not able to find the way forward.  Many have had a 'dark night of the soul' or the times of wondering why God is silent and seems, contrary to promise, to have abandoned them.  The psalm is not all 'lament' it does move on to recall past experiences of God, but I think it also gives permission for people to feel the way they feel.

    This morning someone pointed me at a You Tube video expressing the experiences of a woman who had been treated for breast cancer.  I appreciate you are probably all sick and tired of this stuff, but it is still part of my life (and always will be).  The experiences in the video do not entirely match my own - I can honestly say I have never asked 'why me' - but it does have resonances along the way.  Even if it does match your own story, or that of anyone you know/love the nightmare roller coaster is a metaphor worth considering...  Feel free to skip past it to the rest of my scribbles if you prefer.

      (If you do watch it, you may need a tissue or three)

    God of the dark places

    The endless night-time

    The sleepless nights

    And interminable days

    The nightmare, waking and sleeping









    Why do you allow us this travail?

    To what end the nights we cannot sleep?


    Yet even darkness is light to you

    In Christ, You have have shared the endless hours









    You know and understand our travail

    You have had your own own sleepless nights


    Whether we ride the roller coaster of our own nightmares

    Unable to make the ride stop

    Unable to get off...


    Whether we live in the pause moment before the next plunge

    Knowing what will come

    Unable to stop the inevitable...


    Whether we feel the perisitent tug of the cable

    Drawing us steadily onwards

    Unable to escape what lies ahead...


    Whether we relax as the ride ends

    Unable to be sure it has ended

    Not knowing if we must ride again as some new nightmare overtakes us...


    Whether we watch helplessly

    Unable to free another from the nightmare ride

    Unable to share the ride...


    Whatever, wherever, whoever...

    You are with us




    Sharing every moment


    God of the dark places

    God of the sleepless nights

    God of the nightmare

    God of hope

    God whose promsies are trustworthy

    God in whom we find life

    Hear our prayer.